In tribute to her warhorse, 2 others find a home

Sing Me Back Home, a Graded Stakes Placed gelding spends a last moment with devoted owner Christina Sawelsky. Photo by Elisabeth Sawelsky

Sing Me Back Home, a Graded Stakes Placed gelding spends a last moment with devoted owner Christina Sawelsky. Photo by Elisabeth Sawelsky

As the sun set on their modest old barn, racing warhorse Sing Me Back Home turned his face toward the woman who loved him.

And though cancerous tumors had pushed his once finely sculpted head into a battlefield of  lumps, Christina Sawelsky reached up and pulled him close.

Holding his muzzle with her right hand, she leaned in and kissed his eye, thanking him for being such a good friend to her these past five years, and wishing him Godspeed.

Sing Me Back Home
Sire: Homebuilder
Dam: Pocket Tunes, by Tunerup
Foal date: Feb. 24, 1998
Earnings: $619, 541 in 114 starts
“I was telling him how much I loved him, and that I was sorry I couldn’t do any more,” says Sawelsky, a registered nurse who spent the last year helping the sick horse battle cancer. After multiple surgeries, one removing his left eye, and a regimen of drugs, painkillers and chemotherapy, their moments dwindled to one last trail ride, at dusk, on Dec. 12.

“Sing love-love-loved trail rides. So my daughter Elisabeth and I met at the barn and we went out with Sing and our other OTTB Charlie. We took turns riding him bareback. And when we got back, we gave him a grooming fit for a king. We even oiled his feet.”

Though the ravages of cancer had taken a toll on Sing, he received loving care until the end. His stall was piled high with straw to cushion him.

Though the ravages of cancer had taken a toll on Sing, he received loving care until the end. His stall was piled high with straw to cushion him.

She adds, “We prepped him like we were going to a show.”

The next day, the graded-stakes winner, who’d run 114 times and earned $619,000, was humanely euthanized. Though he had fought, and Sawelsky had tried every medical intervention she could, with no thought to cost, Sing Me Back Home had reached a point where he was at risk for a rupture or seizure, which would send him out of this life in pain.

So in the nineteenth century barn where Sing lived out five golden years in Sharon, Mass., the horse and rider parted early the next morning.

But the spirit of the racehorse —all that heart and toughness in the face of hard times—inspired Sawelsky to carry on, and not to wallow.

A month later, she and her daughter Elisabeth hitched up their truck and two-horse trailer and drove 4 hours to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s (TRF) Wallkill, N.Y. facility.

Standing on the same frozen ground where 20 years ago Sawelsky first came to investigate adopting an OTTB, she returned with her daughter Elisabeth to find yet another Thoroughbred; not to replace Sing, but to continue a tradition of horse adoption in honor of the great TRF horses she has owned.

Christina  welcomes Quantity, her new OTTB from the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.

Christina welcomes Quantity, her new OTTB from the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.

Prior to Sing, she owned Key to the Turf for 12 years. And after he died in 2010, Sing arrived.
“Thoroughbreds are amazing animals. They have such heart,” she says. “They give everything they can, and even if they don’t have the speed, they still get out there and work everyday.”

Sing ran 114 times until age 10, she adds. He retired sound. If any horse deserved all the love, the time, and in the end, medical intervention, it was him, she says.

And when it was time to say goodbye, she notified the TRF and drove out with a plan to adopt Quantity, a beautiful chestnut who sustained a race-career ending avulsion fracture after 20 starts and $175,853 in earnings.

She was all set to take him too. But then she and her daughter spotted Private Relations, a War Front baby who sold for over $300,000 as a yearling. Mother and daughter debated between the two. Private Relations had the filled-out, robust good looks of a Warmblood. But Quantity had a big-strided, floating trot. And, she adds, he looked so worried.

“We wanted to take Private Relations, but I looked at Quantity and thought, we can’t just leave him,” she says.

So she decided to do what she felt was right. In tribute to Sing Me Back Home, she opted to give both horses a forever home.

“My dream is to start a sanctuary for horses and dogs who’s owners die, or are in a nursing home, or get deployed,” she says. “As a nurse, I see so many animals who end up in shelters because the families can’t take care of them … my sanctuary would be a tribute to my war horse Sing. I’d call it The Senior Center at the Sing Me Back Home Sanctuary.”

26 responses to “In tribute to her warhorse, 2 others find a home”

  1. Tonya

    What a touching story. Sing sounded like a pretty amazing guy and I know he’d be happy to see
    His two friends at his home being loved and cherished. More people should help the OTTB’S!

  2. Stacey Mayer

    Great story! Wonderful name for your new charity. I’ll look forward to hearing more!

  3. patty

    This story has me in tears. So glad there are such kind and loving people in the world. Horses are such divine animals, really souls that run with the wind. Thank you for writing this.

  4. nancy conner

    Loved this story..we’ve been adopting retired greyhounds for twenty years. Never replacing, just continuing. This was a beautiful tribute. Thanks for sharing. And yes, I had tears. Both sad and happy.

  5. Carmel

    Bless you Christina, for all you did for Sing. This story indeed brings the tears, so sad poor Sing had to suffer the cancer. But I’ll bet he took everything in stride and never got down about it, He had all the love in the world from you, he was a very lucky horse in that sense. I wish you all the best with your new additions and hope your rescue becomes a reality. You are a light of hope for many!

  6. Mary McLeod

    Christina and Elisabeth, thank you for the depth of your loving and caring for Sing and now Quantity and Private Relations. Horses definitely have feelings, and it is wonderful that Christina noticed the worry on Quantity’s face. Love the idea and name for your sanctuary. There are so many fur and hair babies that end up in a bad situation after their owner dies, ages, becomes disabled, etc. Susan, your essays usually leave me with tears….thank you!!!!

  7. Jeannette Sinclair

    My heart breaks for you. You are a most wonderful woman. Many tears.

  8. Sandy Carr

    I’ll go out and hug my OTTB “Easy” in honor of “Sing”, right after he’s up from his winter nap in the New Mexico sun.

  9. Christina Sawelsky

    Thank you all so much for the kind words and sharing your own thoughts and experiences…Susan Salk wrote a beautiful tribute to Sing…and the 2 new deserving boys and to Charlie our other OTTB, Sing’s best buddy….

    1. Helen

      So sorry to hear about Sing, so hard to let our four legged family go.
      I was wondering about his cancer. My horse was diagnosed 2years ago with osteosarcoma, same thing he has lumps on his face, vet said nothing we can do for it, have had him X rayed x2, no change, but now they seem to be getting smaller,or moving inwards. Was you able to find any info on it, I was told it’s very rare in horses, so very little info. How long did Sing have, would appreciate any info you could give me on this
      My horse so far is doing ok, still able to ride him, eating good etc

      1. Christina Sawelsky

        Helen, feel free to PM me or email me I would be happy to give you all I know and lend some support.

  10. Marissa

    And how could I forget my little dude, Our Medalist, aka Rigby, who I bought as a 4 year old out of a feed lot! He’s happier living the stalled life so he is boarded. OTTBs really are fantastic horses! I use Rigby’s story to highlight how great they are and how fantastic horses can end up in bad situations. You might find a diamond in the rough like I did! As a side note, his racing family DID NOT send him to auction.

  11. Margaret Archer

    Man, this one has me sniffling and dropping tears all over the place. What a bittersweet story! Bucketloads of gratitude and admiration to Christina Sawelsky, and much thanks to Susan for sharing her story.

  12. LindaVA

    Sing Me Back Home Sanctuary would be absolutely a perfect name.

  13. Marlaine Meeker

    Hope for great success and it will have an almost perfect name. Thanks to all that rescue.

  14. Suzh

    I love that sentiment that you don’t replace them. I’ve always said that – “you don’t replace them, you just go on to the next one”. I had a TB given to me. He’d been successful show hunter, but had been blinded in one eye. That wasn’t treated and he ended up with UVitis and Glaucoma bilaterly. He was given to me with the understanding that I would have to put him down sooner rather than later; he wasn’t a horse that could tolerate blindness. It could be six months, it could be a year. My comment was that ‘each day was a gift’. We jumped until he was no longer comfortable with it. We hacked until he wasn’t comfortable working under the lights at night, and then we just rode during the day on weekends in natural light. Then we couldn’t ride at all, but he got fussed over daily and was the barn mascot. Then he told me it was time. I had him for 5 wonderful years, and wouldn’t change a thing. Sometimes there is more satisfaction having a bond with a ‘broken’ horse. So, I just love reading these stories.

  15. Jill

    Man, this one got me right in “the feels”, having just lost my horse 2 weeks ago, to the same cancer. Once my heart heals, I plan to a give an OTTB, in need of a soft landing, a forever home. Thank you for sharing this, even of it did make me weepy.

  16. Jon

    I understand the pain Christina went through. I have had to ease 4 of our old pensioned OTTB’s out of this life due to illnesses that were not curable due to their old age in the last 3 years. None of these horses could be replaced because they were each individuals. My newest horse is an exactly that, the newest individual horse.

  17. Martha.

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. While I dont know if my next horse will be a OTTB or not, I am hoping to be able to give even just “one more” a decent and loving life.

  18. Deb Barry

    That is a two hankie job. What a lovely story.

  19. Elizabeth Innes

    We need an army of people like this woman.

    1. suzh


  20. tbdancer

    Well, I’m glad I didn’t read this at work. I don’t dare cry on my employer’s keyboard. What a marvelous story of a life well lived and a horse well loved. And the lessons Sing taught Christina and Elisabeth are going to create a wonderful life for Private Relations and Quantity. The comment that Quantity “looked so worried” got to me. My OTTB, whom I bought 18 years ago next July 31, was a worrier, too. And what a wonderful idea to have the Sing Me Back Home Sanctuary.

    1. Marissa

      I made that mistake. I often do! Figure I’d learn by now. This one was definitely a tough one to get through. Had to start and stop and pretend there was something bugging my eye…. We lost our Bold Ruler grandson, Northern Ruffian, a few years ago at 28. We named our farm after him and have some of our friends horses retired with us as well as our own retirees. If I remember correctly, we’ve got a 1990, 1991, 1997, two others of unknown heritage, and my QH. I think the youngest is 14.

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